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Cultural Boundaries of Science

Credibility on the Line

Why is science so credible? Usual answers center on scientists’ objective methods or their powerful instruments. In his new book, Thomas Gieryn argues that a better explanation for the cultural authority of science lies downstream, when scientific claims leave laboratories and enter courtrooms, boardrooms, and living rooms. On such occasions, we use "maps" to decide who to believe—cultural maps demarcating "science" from pseudoscience, ideology, faith, or nonsense.

Gieryn looks at episodes of boundary-work: Was phrenology good science? How about cold fusion? Is social science really scientific? Is organic farming? After centuries of disputes like these, Gieryn finds no stable criteria that absolutely distinguish science from non-science. Science remains a pliable cultural space, flexibly reshaped to claim credibility for some beliefs while denying it to others. In a timely epilogue, Gieryn finds this same controversy at the heart of the raging "science wars."

412 pages | 1 halftone, 1 map, 1 line drawing, 2 tables | 6 x 9 | © 1999

Culture Studies

History: General History

Philosophy: General Philosophy

Table of Contents

Introduction: Contesting Credibility Cartographically
1. John Tyndall’s Double Boundary-Work: Science, Religion, and Mechanics in Victorian England
2. The U.S. Congress Demarcates Natural Science and Social Science (Twice)
3. May the Best Science Win: Competition for the Chair of Logic and Metaphysics at the University of Edinburgh, 1836
4. The (Cold) Fusion of Science, Mass Media, and Politics
5. Hybridizing Credibilities: Albert and Gabrielle Howard Compost Organic Waste, Science, and the Rest of Society
Epilogue: Home to Roost: "Science Wars" as Boundary-Work
Bibliography of Secondary Works


Science, Knowledge, and Technology section, American Sociological Association: Robert K. Merton Award

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